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The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

UT receives documents from influential Mexican-American judge

The University has received documents donated by the family of a Mexican-American judge who was influential in shaping Texas and U.S. law.

The documents donated by the late Judge Filemon Vela’s family would be interesting for people working with border legal issues such as immigration and drug control and are freely available for consultation after years of cataloguing, said librarian for U.S. and Latino studies at The Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, Margo Gutierrez.

The collection received documents that belonged to Vela and were donated by his widow Blanca Sanchez Vela in 2007, said Christian Kelleher, archivist for the rare book and manuscript collection.

Kelleher said the donation includes records of his personal life, his time as a student, his activity in his community, his life as a father and family man, the majority of his professional documentation and activities, as well as clippings, scripts, notes, photographs and radio broadcast recordings.

“Judge Vela was very influential, particularly in his community but also as a district justice, in really formulating law for the United States,” Kelleher said.

The collection brings together his experience as a Mexican-American legal scholar from the Rio Grande Valley, providing unique historical documentation on the region, he said.

According to biographical resources in the UT online libraries, Vela received his license to practice law in Texas in 1962 and participated in an influential 1970 case that helped establish the pursuit of due process in governmental bodies in South Texas.

Vela served as judge of the 107th Judicial District Court of Cameron and Willacy counties starting in 1974 and was later elected as federal judge of the Southern Region of Texas, Brownsville Division in 1980, according to the
online resources.

According to his biography, as a federal judge for southern Texas, Vela oversaw more than a thousand cases related to drugs and immigration, including a controversial 1989 decision to lift travel restrictions on refugees seeking asylum in the U.S.

“Many of the programs and institutions he created during his lifetime have and will continue to have an impact on the lives of current and future South Texas citizens,” according to his biography.

Throughout his professional career, Vela remained involved in his community by supporting civic organizations and activities, mentoring in youth programs and even co-hosting a radio program popular in South Texas and northern Mexico in which he answered and discussed legal questions, according to the online resources.

“We are delighted and honored that [Vela’s] family made these documents available to us and to future generations of scholars,” Gutierrez said.

Printed on Thursday, August 4, 2011 as: Influential judge's documents available at Benson Collection

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UT receives documents from influential Mexican-American judge